Netflix have responded to the Dave Chappelle transphobia on their platform with the statement, “We have a strong belief that content on screen doesn’t directly translate to real-world harm.” So if I may, I would like to take a minute to talk about…sharks.
Peter Benchley wrote the novel Jaws in 1974 and helped write the film adaption. Jaws the movie is a FANTASTIC horror film, there’s a reason it went down in history. It made me so scared of sharks that as a child I avoided the deep end of swimming pools just in case there was a shark lurking down there. It made everyone scared of sharks.
And, because content on screen does in fact directly translate to real-world harm, people who had seen Jaws reacted by going out and killing sharks. The director of the Florida Program for Shark Research told the BBC in 2015,
“A collective testosterone rush certainly swept through the east coast of the US. Thousands of fishers set out to catch trophy sharks after seeing Jaws. It was good blue collar fishing. You didn’t have to have a fancy boat or gear – an average Joe could catch big fish, and there was no remorse, since there was this mindset that they were man-killers.”
Yep, the impact of Jaws was still being talked about in 2015! Because ya guessed it, content on screen does in fact directly translate to real-world harm.
The effect Jaws had on real-life sharks is still being discussed right now even! Conservation psychology researcher Brianna Le Busque told the Mercury News in July,
“Since Jaws, we’ve seen a proliferation of monster shark movies — ‘Open Water,’ ‘The Meg,’ ’47 Meters Down,’ ‘Sharknado’ — all of which overtly present sharks as terrifying creatures with an insatiable appetite for human flesh. This is just not true. Sharks are at much greater risk of harm from humans, than humans from sharks, with global shark populations in rapid decline, and many species at risk of extinction.”
“Exacerbating a fear of sharks that’s disproportionate to their actual threat damages conservation efforts, often influencing people to support potentially harmful mitigation strategies. There’s no doubt that the legacy of Jaws persists, but we must be mindful of how films portray sharks to capture movie-goers. This is an important step to debunk shark myths and build shark conservation.”
We don’t know how many sharks were killed by hunters who hated and feared them, but it was certainly enough. Shark populations, already in danger due to people killing them for food, plummeted. And Peter Benchley, who knew by this point that content on screen does in fact directly translate to real-world harm, was horrified. In fact, he spent a good portion of the rest of his life trying to make up for what he’d unwittingly unleashed. He became an ocean activist and once said that if he was to write the book again the shark, “would have to be written as the victim, for, worldwide, sharks are much more the oppressed than the oppressors.” He used his own money from Jaws to fund conversation efforts.
Sharks numbers are apparently growing now and generally humans have learned they’re just animals, not vengeful child-killing monsters. Yet still the amount of sharks killed because of that one movie is incalculable. So, forgive me, but Netflix’s response to what they’ve done here, promoting hate against groups who cannot defend themselves on their home turf nearly as well as sharks, it all seems extremely…